Archives For November 2012

I want to give up! —  November 23, 2012

A common response nowadays is that when the going gets rough, the tough get going as far away from the rough as possible!

            I want you to consider three areas in which people give up:

            1. We give up on God. The reason we give up on God, I believe, stems from an incorrect understanding of His divine purpose for our life. Some think that God’s main objective is to make us happy. When that doesn’t happen, they think, Why bother? I mean, what good is God if He is not being good to me by allowing hard times to happen? A biblical principle that helped me deal with the age-old question of why a good God allows pain to exist is this:

            God’s main objective on this earth is not to make you happy but to save you.

            Let that truth sink in for a moment. If you believe that’s God primary purpose is for you to be happy, then when bad things happen to you, you might question God’s plan or, even worse, His existence. On the other hand, if you believe that God’s primary desire is to save you, then everything that happens, good or bad, fits into His divine purpose for your life. This creates hope instead of despair and brings meaning instead of apathy. You will always have some questions as to why things happen, but expecting trouble helps you deal with it more effectively. Every time pain shows up in your life, you are confronted with two choices: run to or away from God. Which direction are you running these days?

            2. We give up on relationships. Relationships are messy. Relationships have their great days, but they also have their rainy, depressing, run-of-the-mill days as well. We have to manage egos, deal with childlike attitudes, have difficult conversations with sensitive people—and that’s just your husband. The truth is that sometimes, you and your kin can’t!

             A long time ago I learned a short poem that goes like this:

            Living in heaven, with saints we don’t know, that would be glory.

            Living on earth, with saints we know, well, that’s another story.

            Relationships are messy. People don’t always come through or stay faithful or truthful. Life would be awesome if it weren’t for the people! But we were created for relationships. The devil is afraid of healthy relationships. Notice that in the Garden of Eden, he didn’t show up until there were two people, and he didn’t attack both, but only one of them. He knows that “a string of three strands doesn’t break very easily.” He knows that “one can win one thousand, but two will win ten thousand.” The reason the devil fights positive relationships in your life is that he understands the incredible power for good that they have. Who are you connecting with these days?

            3. We give up on our dreams. People have dreams, objectives, aspirations, and goals. God made us with a specific purpose. Our job is to discover and develop that purpose. What do you do when confronted by obstacles? How easily do you give up on your God-given dreams? Maybe you have dreamt of starting a business, going back to school, changing careers, going into full-time ministry, looking for a compatible mate, or you’ve had some other dream. At some point, you encountered resistance. As any bodybuilder can tell you, you need resistance to build muscle. You can’t build strong muscles with one-pound weights. Have you given up? I encourage you not to quit now. What dream have you given up on?

            Walt was a reporter for a newspaper in Kansas City. One day he was called into the manager’s office and was fired. The reason given for his dismissal was “lack of creativity.” Walt left to follow his dream. Even though many obstacles presented themselves, he never quit. He later became so wealthy that he purchased the newspaper company that had fired him. (Can you imagine how that encounter must have played out? Can you say, “Awkward”?) Walt Disney is a household name today. The reason? He never quit. Neither should you. Join me in repeating the words that Jesus cried out to his Father in the moment when the pain seemed almost unbearable. These words might do you good on a day like today:

He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me.  Yet I want your will to be done, not mine” (Matthew 26:39).

Chippy was a happy bird that lived with his owner. He loved to sing from his cage. He was well fed and his owner took good care of him. Life was grand. Then one day, it all went awry. The owner wanted to clean Chippy’s cage, so she turned on the vacuum cleaner, and after connecting the extension hose, proceeded to vacuum the bottom of Chippy’s cage. At that moment the phone rang. The owner tried to do two things at the same time. With her left hand she continued to vacuum the cage, and with her right hand she answered the phone. She got distracted, and before she knew it she had vacuumed up Chippy. Immediately she opened the bag and found Chippy, stunned but alive and covered with dust.

            Horrified at what she had done, she grabbed Chippy and put him under the shower head, turning on the water full blast. Realizing that the cure was worse than the problem, she grabbed him and put him on the bathroom counter. She turned the hairdryer on high and pointed it at him to dry him off. Chippy survived, barely. Someone asked the owner about Chippy some time later, and the owner said, “Chippy doesn’t sing much anymore.”
I wonder if Chippie’s experience has been yours this year. I wonder if, because of life’s ups and downs, you have lost your song, and don’t really feel in the “singing mood”. I encourage you to thank Him anyway. Our life’s troubles, don’t change the fact that God is still good.
I pray that this Thanksgiving, an attitude of gratitude will return (or grow) and that you may find your song. 
Happy Thanksgiving! 

Failed? Learn from it! —  November 21, 2012

            Why is it important to learn from our failures? Here are three reasons.

            1. Demonstrates our intelligence. Proverbs 18:15 says,

“Intelligent people are always ready to learn. Their ears are open for knowledge.”

            It may seem strange, but we demonstrate our intelligence by admitting that we are not that smart and don’t know it all! Someone has said that the definition of a crazy person is one who repeats the same action time after time, expecting different results. A smart person analyzes his mistakes looking for learning opportunities and, after failing, becomes wiser, having learned from the experience. Nothing exemplifies a smart person better than one who learns the lesson the first time.

            2. Impacts our behavior.
Psalm 119:7 tells us, “As I learn your righteous regulations, I will thank you by living as I should!”

            Failure is a great teacher. One lesson we learn is that deficiencies in our character impact our behavior. Failure is a great way to find out where your growth areas are, and we all have them. For example, behind most failed relationships are bad decisions that were motivated by character flaws and expressed in less-than-ideal actions. When we learn from failure, we grow, and that helps us to think twice before we make the same mistakes.

            3. Brings honor to our lives. Finally, Proverbs 1:9 teaches us,

“What you learn from them will crown you with grace and be a chain of honor around your neck.”

            How do you describe an honorable person? According to this particular text, that title belongs to someone who is willing to learn from others, including from their mistakes. Instead of an L for Loser in the forehead, he carries an H for Honor around his neck. Some of the people I most admire and honor in my life are the ones who are willing to admit when they have failed. I also seem to lose some respect for leaders who hide, excuse, or minimize their deficiencies or mistakes. Do you want to become a person of honor? Admit, understand, learn, and move on!

            This might come as a surprise to you, but Thomas Edison wasn’t always considered a genius. In fact he had reason to play the victim card. His fourth grade teacher, at the end of the school year, did not promote him to the fifth grade. Instead she held him back and said about the young lad, “Thomas is dumb and cannot learn.” Isn’t it interesting how failure can motivate some people to achieve greatness, while in others it’s an excuse for mediocrity? The decision is up to you. Remember, just because you failed, that doesn’t make you a failure.


Proverbs 29:23
“Pride ends in humiliation, while humility brings honor.”

            The three most dangerous words in the English language are “I already know.” I have a teenage son who learned those words early, probably from his mother (or me, but who’s keeping track, right?). He loves to tell me how well he can fix, do, complete, and perform any task known to man. I try to be patient with him, because I remember that I was the same way at that age, and because I love him dearly. But to be totally honest, it’s hard!

            A common reason why people find themselves in the midst of failure is their pride. There is nothing wrong with being a confident person. In fact, a truly confident person will be smart enough to recognize that he doesn’t know it all, can’t do it all, and needs the help of God and other people to be successful. Being teachable and admitting our mistakes is not a sign of weakness but of true strength. Pride leads to failure in the following ways:

            1. Hard to live with. No one likes a know-it-all. I don’t even think that type of person likes himself! The greater the pride, the harder it is for others to relate to him. Pride damages relationships with others like this:

·         It makes you act superior, alienating others.

·         It makes you incapable of admitting wrongs, frustrating others.

·         It makes you a person who does not listen well, distancing others.

            Pride is rooted in a distorted view of self. Some people with a low self-image try to overcompensate by acting in prideful ways. This only serves to distance them from others, especially from loved ones. One of the things I counsel parents to do is admit to their kids when they have made a mistake. Contrary to popular belief, that admission strengthens your bond; it does not make you weaker. The apostle Paul had it right when he wrote in Romans 12:16,

“Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy

 the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!”

            2. Harder to be blessed. One of the fastest ways of stopping your life’s momentum is to believe your own press clippings. The temptation to take some of God’s glory for yourself, even if it is disguised in pious statements, will carry grave consequences. God will not share His glory with us. If you sense that momentum has slowed down or stopped in your life, one of the first questions I would ask is the following: Is God getting all the glory? One of the texts that brings out this powerful truth is James 4:6.

“He gives us . . . more grace to stand against such evil desires. As the

Scriptures say, ‘God opposes the proud but favors the humble.’

            Sometimes I have heard people blame the devil for their lack of personal growth and success, when in fact it could be God who is slowing them down. Maybe it’s just me, but with all the opposition we can face these days, do we need to add God to that list? I think not.

            3. Hardest to follow. You may be a leader. An effective leader admits he does not know everything. Followers want to feel that they are contributing to the overall well-being of the company/organization. A prideful attitude alienates followers and fosters discontent and turnover. Healthy leaders have the ability to recognize that they don’t know it all, and they surround themselves with people who can make up for those deficiencies.

            Admitting your weakness makes your leadership stronger. “Never let them see you sweat” is a good slogan for a deodorant but not for a leader. A leader once said, “Without wise leadership, a nation falls; there is safety in having many advisers” (Proverbs 11:14).

            I’m a sports fanatic. I follow the Cowboys, the Yankees, and any soccer team that is not Argentina. One of the key questions professional athletes have to ask themselves is, “When should I retire?” Very seldom do you see a professional athlete realize by themselves that the time has come, without the help of being benched or cut from the team. The reason? Pride. It’s very hard to admit that you can’t do it anymore. There’s somebody younger, faster, and better than you. Pride clouds and distorts the true picture of yourself, which is why it’s important to surround yourselves with “no” men, not just “yes men.”

            The  Bible is clear when speaking about pride. It precedes nothing that is good, and it is a precursor to failure. Proverbs 16:18 says,

“Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall.”

            Today, listen to God speaking to you and telling you

·         You have nothing to prove. Love Me instead.

·         You cannot impress Me. Worship Me instead.

·         You don’t know. Trust Me instead.

Many hail social media as the next great frontier for outreach, and perhaps they’re right. Twitter and Facebook, after all, provide the ability to touch peoples’ lives immediately, constantly and personally, from anywhere on the planet. Can you witness on Facebook? Yes, you can … but there are some important keys to remember.

1. It’s a social network. People use the network as part of (or sometimes, in lieu of) their social lives. Advertisers have learned, the hard way, that people don’t use Facebook for shopping. They’re mostly looking for real contact with real people, and aren’t likely to pay much attention to those who are forever posting announcements or ads, even if they are for church events.

2. Don’t abuse tagging. Tagging is used to let someone (or their friends) know when he or she appears in a photo. Christians are sometimes tempted to take things a little further, unfortunately: they’ll make a religious statement with a picture – say a graphic that promotes their favorite theological hobby horse – and then tag people in that picture in an effort to get them to look at it. Or, worse yet, fearing that their own friend list is too short for the picture to garner much attention, they’ll tag people with longer friend lists in order to broaden their exposure. It’s the modern day digital equivalent of stuffing religious tracts into the pockets of clothing in a store – a form of theft, because it takes something that belongs to someone else (be it shelf space or personal reputation) to promote your own views.
Don’t assume people will be excited by the same things you are. If you tag them, and they don’t see it for weeks, it’ll only create resentment, and instead of serving as a witness, it’ll get you unfriended.

3. Don’t hijack threads. When you insert a thought into a discussion that is unrelated to the topic at hand, you’re hijacking a thread. It’s considered rude, and looks especially distasteful when you post links to websites that promote your political or religious views. The same holds true for peoples’ walls: someone else’s wall is not free advertising space for you. It’s his or her wall, and the place for you to advertise is on your wall. Using someone else’s is the digital equivalent of telemarketing. Annoying, right?

4. Don’t preach. I will never forget the day I posted that I had just discovered, to my delight, that Oreos are vegan. In the space of about twenty minutes, I had received more than eighty replies warning me of the dangers of sugar. I had eaten a single Oreo. One. The previous day, I had posted that we had baptized hundreds of people in a recent evangelistic effort – and that garnered eleven responses. Fortunately, I know the Adventist community and its obsession with checking peoples’ plates, so it didn’t strike me quite as negatively as if I had been an outsider, but it still resulted in a few people getting booted off my friend list. Yes, we’re all about health – but pouncing on someone’s statements and/or activities, especially in a public forum, is not likely to score you points. A casual statement that my wife had enjoyed something Lucille Ball had said scored me a couple of mini sermons about the entertainment industry, too. It’s not witnessing, it’s uninvited meddling. And invited is a key concept in evangelism. Before you post, picture a street corner preacher shouting people down as they pass by: “you’re on your way to hell!!!” Then remember that, believe it or not, it’s actually easier to come across that way online.

Don’t forget: it’s a social network, and to succeed, you have to avoid being anti-social. Go ahead and treat your own Facebook account like a pulpit (let me know how it turns out), but never, ever use someone else’s.

5. Don’t add people to groups without asking. This is an offense related to thread hijacking and intrepid tagging. Facebook has now made it possible to add people to groups without first asking them, which means that someone could make a group that called “Charlie Manson is a True Prophet,” and add you to it without your permission. You might not discover your participation for weeks, or months. What’s that? Your group isn’t offensive? You need to extend the courtesy of letting your invitees make that decision. Don’t forget: just because Facebook lets you do something, it doesn’t mean you should.

6. Protect a person’s right to privacy. There is a generation that now assumes that everything is for public consumption. They video every event and put it in cyberspace for all time. They hang their private lives out in front of the world every day, scarcely remembering that once it’s on the web, you will never likely be able to retract it. Before commenting on something, ask yourself if it might not be better to send the message privately. If Sarah, a very close friend who confides in you frequently, posts, “having a tough day,” the place to ask, “is that because you’re still fighting with your mother-in-law?” is her private message box, not her wall. I know: in that instance, it seems obvious, but we ought to ask every single time we reply to a post whether our comments ought to be public.

Most people instinctively known how to behave online, but alas, there is an alarming percentage of our church membership that doesn’t have netiquette – so much so that I’ve taken to keeping my non-Adventist friends in a separate account to be sure that the “witness” they experience is positive. Perhaps it’s time for churches to include netiquette in soul-winning workshops.

As long as you’re thinking about using social media in your outreach efforts, here’s an article written by Phil Cooke on Twitter etiquette for non-profits that you might find interesting.

The following events, I experienced myself:

*I was asked whether it is ok to baptize someone that is living in the USA without working documents.

*I overheard a conversation where a family was sharing that they will not vote for an African American candidate for president, based solely on his skin color.

*Someone tells one of the Hispanic pastors that he should tell all his undocumented members to go back to their country. Immediately.

*A 1st generation Hispanic church member tells a 2ndgeneration youth to please attend an English speaking church, making fun of his Spanish pronunciation and sending the clear message that his kind are not welcome there.

These all happened in the last 10 years.

11 o’clock on Sabbath morning is still the most segregated hour in Adventism in America. On order for our churches to become what God intended them to be, we must take the lead in reconciliation. Being reconciled with God means being reconciled with my brother. God intends his church to become a house of prayer for all people.

As we seek to become a house of prayer for all people, we must intentionally seek to develop relationships and make our churches a welcome place for the following types of people.

1. People that don’t look like me. One of my good friends, Pr. Harold is planting a congregation in Oregon. Originally, the church started as a 2ndGeneration Hispanic Church. What he soon discovered, is that 2nd Generation Hispanics marry and have friends of different cultures. One time, a person that was attending asked why they called the church a “church for 2ndGeneration Hispanics”. In his attempts to become more inclusive and to reach out to a neglected segment, he was in fact being the opposite of inclusive. The church is now called Mosaic, a Multicultural church in the west side of Portland. His church includes African Americans, Koreans, as well as people from Hawaii, Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, among others.

The fact is that the younger the person, the more tolerant he is of different races. The browning of America is happening, whether we like it or not.

2. People that don’t think like me. In the church that I grew up with, questions were not often welcomed. You did what you were told, and that was final. With this generation, such methods hardly work. In order to reach them, we must allow them to express their opinions, value their input and respond with solid evidence, not just a “because I say so”. I still remember the answer our youth leaders gave us when we asked why we could not go to the movies. First of all, your guardian angel stays outside when you go into a movie theater. Secondly, Ellen White condemned movie theaters. Thirdly, because we told you not to. Not a word was mentioned about content of the movies, being able to select better entertainment or allowing us to question why the same people that condemned the theater watched the same movie in their home. When we pointed out that there were no movie theaters in EGW days, we were met with accusations of rebellion and not conforming to the truth. It’s incongruences like this that helped some of my friends to reject orders completely when they went to the movies and saw that the place was no different than the local mall.

What I see happening all too often in our churches, is the labeling and demonizing of people that hold other viewpoints. Liberal, extremist, contemporary, conservative. These are just some of the labels thrown out there. It has been said, that when fishermen don’t fish, they fight. I wonder if the millions of people down the street that are on their way to an eternity really care whether we sing two more praise songs or if the prayer comes before the welcome. (actual fights in church boards I have been present in). What if we used those energies and the time we spend in countless committees, to minister to the community that surrounds us? What if we helped people to realize God is madly in love with them?

I don’t have to compromise my values to connect with you. I don’t have to change my mind about doctrine to open my arms and love you. I don’t have to leave my brain at the door, just my prejudice.

From a culture of secrecy to a culture of authenticity.

According to a study, in Hispanic churches, 68% of the church members have been abused.  That is a lot of pain sitting in the pews.   Yet, abuse is one of those topics that is seldom talked about. Just pretending it does not exist, does not make it better.  I have found that many are reluctant deal openly with those types of issues.  Sensitive issues are hard to deal with, but it’s necessary. It’s important to be real, not just speak about the ideal. As a solution for this problem I am suggesting the following:

a.      Become vulnerable.  At the risk of being misunderstood, make it a point of sharing your personal journey.  Present the real as well as the ideal.  We all have issues, and when we share how God is dealing with us in the midst of our issues, it helps people identify with us.  Even though we are all different, there are common experiences that we can all relate to. Pain, loss, sin, health, and family are some of those experiences.  It is interesting to realize how similar we all are.

b.      Begin small groups.  I am a big fan of small groups, preferring evangelistic small groups.  That being said, there is nothing more evangelistic that for a pre-Adventist to see authenticity in action.  I believe that happens best at the small group.   Small groups help us to know and be known in a small enough venue where we can be vulnerable, yet large enough that there less pressure to share. 

c.       Bring people along slowly.  Since authenticity is a foreign concept for a significant portion of people, take your time as you go through this process.  Realizing you are in a safe place, with a non-judgmental people surrounding you takes time.  Rushing into it, will actually bring the opposite of the desired results.  Let new people adjust to this new reality before asking them to share extensively about themselves.

d.      Brag on God through personal testimonies.  Since the process might be new for many, it is important to keep before the congregation the work God is doing in the lives of people.  Don’t underestimate the power of a personal story.  I am amazed about why we don’t use it more often.  Advertising experts know that product placement works best when it is accompanied by real life people that are using, benefiting, and sharing the benefits of the product with others.  It pleases God when we brag on Him, in a positive way.  With antagonism towards the church at an all time high, personal testimonies of God’s work are very effective in breaking down barriers.  It is much easier to argue about theology than to refute the real story of a real person, changing in a real way.

e.      Build community support.  Invite organizations that have purposes akin to yours.  We need to be cautious about who we bring in, and what their agenda is, but we have to realize that we did not invent the wheel.  There are community and religious organizations that have been doing at least some of what you are doing, usually for a longer period of time.  In an event at the Hillsboro church, we invited several organizations to participate, including a local Christian college counseling department as well as representatives from the local hospital and police department.  Just their exposure to our church ministries, opened many doors.  We got five hundred teddy bears, a grant for food, free cholesterol screening, more than forty computers for a lab, all free of charge.


A story that I read a long time ago, talks about a thief that goes in a store in the middle of the night and changes the price tags.  If this happened, it probably did before scanners and metal detectors.  What that thief did, benefited some, while harming others.  Some got a once in a lifetime deal, while others grossly overpaid.  Satan is a thief.  He has changed the value system in our world, so that Godly values are ignored while worldly values are cherished.  Christ’s church is here to be the store manager.  We must correct the value system, while at the same time explaining that the most expensive life insurance, Jesus got for us for free.

Excelence in Worship —  November 14, 2012

It has been said that “Excelence honors God and inspires people”. Here are some suggestions to raise the bar in our worship services:

Bring up the topic of worship and you almost always sure to get people in two sides.  Since every road has two ditches, I am hoping that the principles that I am going to share are both universal, as well as biblical.

A. Overall Excellence  

This applies to all the worship services no matter if the style is traditional, contemporary, or blended.  I have attended all three and have seen excellence at work in all three as well as some other times that I left saying “What was that?”  Just because you are silent it doesn’t mean you are reverent.  Just because you have added a guitar and percussion doesn’t mean it’s relevant.  For example, here are some of the questions that come up as I am sitting in worship some Sabbaths.  Of course, these happen in churches far away from you.

1.  Why do singers always seem to apologize for being under the weather before they sing?

2.  Why do we think that just because we say “it’s for the glory of God” before a song makes it OK to forget the words, sing out of tune and scare small babies with the inflection of your voice?

3.  Why do some preachers say “in conclusion” and don’t conclude?

4.  Why is it important for me to listen for twenty minutes about how wide the walls of Jericho were?

5.  Shouldn’t there be a prerequisite that the person that reads the mission story, or the scripture, or the children’s story at least to have read it before hand?

6.  Can we understand that “when people get here” is not a time.  7pm is a time. 9:30am is a time. And please, when asked, why are we not starting?, don’t laugh and say “it’s Spanish people time”. Not funny.

7.  Ever had this happen?  Person up front giving the welcome is nervous and says:  “Good morning”.  People in the pews respond with: “Good morning”.  Person up front acts deaf:  “I can’t hear you, good morning!”. People in the pews: “Good morning”.  Person up front uses guilt:  “Aren’t you happy to be here this morning? GOOD MORNING!”.  People in the pews turn up the volume, even though it’s early, been a long week,  Johnny vomited on the way to church and husband didn’t help at all with the teenage daughter’s attitude, and say:  “GOOD MORNING”.  Who do we have to pay so that this does not happen again? 

B. Music

In worship, it can make or break you.  Pick the right song at the right time and it will be uplifting and powerful.  Pick the wrong song, and it can distract or worse yet, deflate the congregation.

Here are some things to look for in the people that lead the musical part of worship:

1.      Right attitude.  People that know it’s not about them, never has been, never will be.

2.      Right ability.  People that know that just because you want to, doesn’t mean you have to.

3.      Right commitment.  People that know that there is more to singing than singing.

C. Preaching 

Preaching should be about transformation, not just information.  Pastor Alejandro Bullon, a well-known Hispanic evangelist, tells this story.  “One Sabbath after preaching an older gentleman came up to me and told me:  “Pastor, I did not like your sermon”.  When I asked why, he simply said: “Because I understood it!”  It’s possible to be simple without being simplistic.  These are some key questions to ask yourself before preaching. 

a. Where is the lamb? No matter where you start, all roads must end with Calvary.

b. What’s the one thing I want to say today?  The gospel is everlasting. Your sermons should not be.

c. Do the people that know me best believe what I am about to say? Never go into the pulpit with unresolved family issues. 

d. What is biblical truth? It’s above your opinion or desires, it’s God’s declaration.

e. How does that truth relate to my community?

*What are my communities’ interests?

*What are their needs?

*What are their hurts?

I applied those principles in the last church I was a pastor in and found out the following.

a.      Interests- children, marriage, health.

b.      Needs- food, jobs, adequate medical coverage.

c.       Hurts- abuse, abandonment, addictions.

We went out in the community and asked them what their interests, needs and hurts were.  It was a simple survey, but very telling.  After the survey, we then developed programs to meet the needs.  That transformed the church.  First of all, a very small percentage of people we asked knew who we were.  That made an impact in us, since it was a five hundred member church in the middle of the Hispanic community.  Second it helped us target more effectively our community. 
May God help us, to raise the level of excelence in worship.